tv Secrets of the Belfast Project CNN September 30, 2012 11:00pm-12:00am PDT
the very balance between peace and justice. >> at the very beginning of the troubles, we were put out of our home. >> reporter: helen had nine brothers and sisters and a family on the front lines of the troubles. >> we lifted east belfast. it was nearly prodestant. they threatened to kill my father. >> reporter: a mixed marriage. her father was a catholic and her mother a prodestant. northern ireland is part of britain. loyalists along with the police and army were fighting to keep the status quo. catholics, nationalists and republicans were fighting to kick out the british and unify all of ireland. the irish republican army, the i.r.a. at the forefront. while jean and arthur lived a
happy life together, outside their home all hell was breaking loose. prodestant against catholic. houses burned. >> every day somebody being shot, injured and bombs going off around us. that's the way it was. we got used to living like that. we didn't think it was any different from anywhere else in the world, really. >> reporter: after helen's father died, her mother was left to raise the ten children alone. >> when you'd come home from school, she had a cup of tea, some toast. going to bed at night, mum was there, you know, just doing what every mother does. she was a happy go lucky person. she would have done anything to help anyone. >> reporter: that changed the
day the i.r.a. took her mother away. >> it came tea time. they dragged her out of the bathroom. >> reporter: it was december, 1972, the last time helen would see her and the beginning of he helen's quest for the truth. the quest she would get little help from until she met her future husband. >> i made helen a promise that i would do everything in my power to find the truth. >> reporter: they would need each other. they were up against the powerful, violent i.r.a. >> we knew it was the i.r.a. we went to people and asked questions. we were told your mother, we had her but she's gone. apparently they let her go in england and she would come home for us. >> reporter: it was all lies. decades were to pass, no sign of
her mother. in 1998, the good friday peace agreement was signed. i.r.a. and loyalists paramilitaries laid down their weapons. peace had come to northern ireland, but not to helen. >> i wanted to know where my mother was. i wanted her body back. i wanted an end for what we had to suffer all those years. >> reporter: now, officially at peace, the i.r.a. did not relish her constant questions and did not want to reopen the past. the i.r.a. turned to its tactic of intimidation forcing helen and her family to flee their home. >> our children were beaten up. the car was destroyed. it was one threat after another. we couldn't sleep, we were just waiting, a bomb getting chucked in or somebody coming in and putting us to sleep forever, you know.
>> reporter: finally, it was hear on this lonely beach, more than 30 years after she disappeared jean mcconville's body was discovered in 2003. no one has been charged with her murder. for ireland, it was an uneasy peace. for helen and her family, it's been four decades of unanswered questions. >> all i ever wanted was to know the reason why they killed my mother. from capital one, olaf's pizza palace gets the most rewards of any small business credit card! pizza!!!!! [ garth ] olaf's small business earns 2% cash back on every purchase, every day! helium delivery. put it on my spark card! [ pop! ] [ garth ] why settle for less? great businesses deserve the most rewards! awesome!!! [ male announcer ] the spark business card from capital one. choose unlimited rewards with 2% cash back
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>> reporter: even in death, there was little peace for jean mcconville's family. she was buried in a quiet cemetery outside belfast. the family say the i.r.a. wanted her funeral kept low key. yet, another cruel blow for jean's daughter, helen. >> after the bureial, there's all different sorts of emotions going through your head.
you get angry and mad at people. >> reporter: nothing can bring her mother back, heal the pain of lives soured by suffering. it's when you walk the streets here that you realize just how locked in the past these communities are. constant reminders, these murals, just when they walk to the shops of everything bad that happened before. it seems no one here really wants to let go of the past. helen needs a way to move forward to understand the past. just as this man hopes to do. three years after the good friday deal brought peace to northern ireland, anthony mcintyre tried to make sense of what happened. >> immaterialed to get as many historical as possible to give an insight to why people who would behave peacefully in a normal society turn to violent methods.
>> reporter: mcintyre began taping interviews in the hopes northern ireland's violent past might some day be better understood, archiving them here, at boston college. inside this library, the belfast project archives, an oral history of some of northern ireland's darkest secrets cataloging from both sides of the divide, 30 years of bitter sectarian fighting known as the troubles. >> that was back in 1988, in a relaxed pose in a classroom. >> reporter: mcintyre isn't any researcher. he was once a jailed member of the i.r.a., that led a terrorist campaign in hopes of forcing the british from ireland. >> reporter: after leaving ireland, mcintyre now a phd
persuaded his comrades to tell their stories. >> reporter: convincing members of the i.r.a. to talk about who they were, what they did was tricky. the i.r.a. demands a vow of secretcy. mcintyre and boston college agreed to keep the interviews secret until the men who gave them were dead. >> reporter: this is the audio recording of mcintyre's interview with the former i.r.a. cell mate, brendan hughes,
broadcast several years after his death in 2008. rare words, rare admissions from a secretive terrorist organization. >> reporter: hughes was the i.r.a. member and in jean mcconville's neighborhood the night she was taken. >> reporter: this is exactly the information that helen mckendry has wanted for 40 years. few know for sure what other answers, what other closure the archives might provide. opening the archives is a dangerous business.
the tapes could contain explosive revelations, could implicate important irish figures and reopen the wounds of a painful past. northern ireland's police want access to the tapes. in rare bipartisan agreement, u.s. politicians warn against it. >> what purpose now to say we are going to use weapons when we, the u.s. is almost a guarantee, if you come forward and put down your weapons, we will stand by you. >> reporter: in a forthright legend, john kerry weighs in, too, warning secretary of state, hillary clinton, of the dangers. as chairman of the senate foreign relations committee, i am obviously concerned about the impact that it may have on the continues success of the northern ireland peace process. kerry continues, it is possible that some former parties to the conflict may perceive the effort by the uk authorities to obtain
this information as contravening, the spirit of the good friday accords. the accords that brought peace to northern ireland and that provided a foreign policy triumph for president bill clinton. when i met owen patterson, the british government east most senior politician, at the time, the police requested the project tapes, i discovered there's a desire for the belfast project, but little appetite for u.s. interference. >> i think it's a good thing to capture these memmemories. it's not just an issue of the political history or the value ens, i think it's very interesting social and economic history. >> reporter: why go through with this process? why have the police embaed on this? >> it's a question you need to address with the police. if they have the desire to pursue or bring a case to the court, that is for them. it is quite wrong for a
politician to interfere in that process. >> reporter: for british officials, releasing the secret tapes is a matter of justice. for mcintyre, it may be a matter of life and death. >> i feel that there's always the possibility of somebody throwing a grenade through the window. >> reporter: in the i.r.a.s eyes, mcintyre could be considered an informer, a crime seldom forgiven. >> we are dealing with people that buried jean mcconville on a beach, 30 miles up the road. >> reporter: for now, the decision whether to release the tapes is in the hands of an american court and with it, mcintyre's safety. helen mcconville's answers and northern ireland's peace. ave to scrub it first.
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>> reporter: revelations on aud know tape and memories of 50 other northern combatants are held here at boston college. these tapes contain sensitive information about the troubles and what happened and who was involved and why. helen mckendry believes the tapes contain incriminating clues that could point to her mother's murderers. have you asked to police to pursue the tapes? >> reporter: after a lifetime of disappointment, the mckendry's are believing truth and justice are within reach.
>> reporter: northern ireland's police have subpoenaed the tapes believing their contain critical information about jean mcconville's murder. ed, the archives former director believes exposing the tapes could lead to more violence. >> it is a crime in their eyes, in the leadership of the i.r.a.s eyes, punishable by death, to betray secrets to anyone outside the organization. it's put the interviewees into danger. >> reporter: the men who gave their secret testimonies did so in confidence hoping some day history might learn from their actions, sharing their words endangers their safety and promises to open all wounds. now, the next battle in northern ireland's history is being
fought here where ed maloney and anthony mcintyre are appealing a u.s. court ruling that the tapes must be released. to mcintyre, it's a huge problem for which he blames his american employer. >> reporter: by failing to fight to keep the archives secret, boston college has put dozens of lives at risk. >> i would like to invite ed maloney to the podium. >> reporter: former project manager ed maloney greece. >> since the subpoenas were served is nothing short of disgraceful.
he accused the college of failing to fully challenge subpoenas issued by the united states attorney general. demanding they hand over some of the trove to northern ireland's police. >> here is boston college, a huge institution, wealthy institution, could easily afford to continue this fight, should continue to fight. if this case is lost, it has terrible, terrible implications for the whole tradition of oral history. it's a very rich tradition. >> reporter: maloney, an award winning documentary film maker wrote books on the irish i.r.a. and politics and is revealing the subpoenas in a last ditch bid to protect the former i.r.a. members they interviewed. as for boston college -- >> to try to assign blame to boston college is absurd. >> reporter: it says maloney
himself dangered the archive he is trying to protect. >> the blame lies with ed maloney. >> reporter: the obligation to the interview is broken, the college says. when maloney quoted from the archive. >> it all went long, regrettably when a book was published in 2010 by ed maloney called "voices from the grave." it had been at boston college for five years without any recognition, quite frankly. >> reporter: the book boston college was heavily involved pushed for sooner publication features xerpss from brendan hughes and a former enemy. their words made public only after their death. the allegations and arguments don't stop there. the university accuses maloney of underplaying the risks to interviewees.
>> from the beginning we said to the project organizer they were limitations regarding the insurances of confidentiality. specially, he was told these assurances would not with stand a subpoena. >> reporter: across the atlantic in belfast, these recriminations are an irrelevance. police investigations have begun triggered by ed maloney's book. police decline interviews. in a short press release outline the following. they say they will follow the material in the boston archives all the way to court, if that's where it takes them. detectives have a legal responsibility to investigate murders and follow all lines of inquiry for the victims, for their next of kin and for justice. ultimately, the whole archive, not just the i.r.a. tapes relating to jean mcconville's
death, but any interviews by i.r.a. or loyalist fighters could be at risk. >> law enforcement seeks a subpoena to the u.s. attorney's office regarding criminal investigation, yes, boston college could be liable to turn over additional materials. >> do you think, in your heart, these tapes will be handed over? ♪ tdd#: 1-800-345-2550 let's talk about low-cost investing.
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♪ >> reporter: there is in northern ireland an unease. ♪ >> reporter: communities clinging to faith, holding on to their histories, ever present, the belief that the other side of the religious political divide is getting a better deal. ♪ >> reporter: on the contentious issue of unsolved murders, that ease is acute. jean mcconville's family is not the only one in need of answers. mcconville was killed by the i.r.a. while pat finucane was
gunned down by the i.r.a.s enemies. he was killed by militaries shot 14 times in front of his family. he rose to prominence in the courts. a british government report stated that his killers acted in collusion with the police. with police and the british army all responsible to the british government, the british prime minister, tony blair, who oversaw the good friday peace agreement promised his family an inquiry. late last year, when his wife went to visit david cameron, the current prime minister, the message changed. there would be no inquiry, no effort to find new evidence, no deeper look at how the british government may have been involved in his death.
>> if they don't give an inquiry into my husband's murder, which was promised, it will just increase the suspicions. there are many disrepublicans saying nothing changed, we need to fight against the british government. it's giving ammunition to people to turn to violence. >> reporter: british officials say they are doing enough to investigate what happened to finucane. the prime minister has interest in ts case. we concluded that the best route was to let loose and internationally renowned lawyer on a huge archive of government and police material. that is exactly what we have done. >> reporter: ed maloney says it's not nearly enough. even as the british government and northern ireland's police, the psni are fighting to open
the secret boston college archive. the finucane case say they have wrong doing. >> demanding the right to rummage through the archives of boston college -- that's double standards. >> reporter: richard, an i.r.a. member for decades cannot understand why british police are pushing so hard for the tapes. >> reporter: the main value of the archives says it's healing. for him, giving his interview ten years ago was life changing. >> i remember breaking down
>> reporter: a catalyst to tell his story. he has no blood on his hands, never killed anyone he says. even so, he's been watching his back. >> reporter: a former i.r.a. enemy, william plum smith. >> reporter: smith's community was ravaged by violence, the i.r.a. blowing up pubs, shops, killing and maiming. smith struck back to cause equal
or worse carnage. smith was once a bitter enemy. now, they have something in common, a deep distrust to access their confidential interviews. >> reporter: cutting short the project, a huge loss for future generations. >> this would be very valuable, historical archive and a historical future for future students and policymakers. what we were providing in a realistic way was a coincidence of the mind of a terrorist. >> reporter: into the truth of what really happened during the worst of the troubles. here, brendan hughes tells a story of one of the i.r.a.s
biggest atrocities. bloody friday. >> reporter: in the space of 80 minutes, 22 i.r.a. bombs went off here in the streets in the center of belfast. it was just after 2:00 in the afternoon, the 21st of july, 1972, nine people were killed, 130 wounded, 77 of them women and children. >> reporter: it is a tiny tip of an iceberg of information that
mcintyre and maloney fear could trigger police demands for all the tapes in the boston archive to expand investigations beyond jean mcconville's murder, promising answers to come, possibly threatening the lives of others. [ male announcer ] the 2013 smart comes with 8 airbags, a crash management system and the world's only tridion safety cell which can withstand over three and a half tons. small in size. big on safety.
>> reporter: murals like these in a catholic housing project in belfast northern ireland are a reflection of a community and its heroes. but, when brendan hughes broke a vow of silence and named the man he claimed was responsible for jean mcconville's death, a mural in his memory was painted over, recently redone. it's a clear example of the power the sbeer interviews in boston university may have. hughes words split his community. >> reporter: that's gerry add -- adams. one of the most important
political figures. >> reporter: adams rocketed through the i.r.a. ranks, was welcomed in the u.s. by president clinton, silenced the i.r.a. guns that landed decades of bloodshed. ultimately, emerged as the most influential catholic politician in northern ireland. gerry adams refused our request for an interview. in the past, he's said many times he was never in the i.r.a. and certainly never involved in the death of jean mcconville. his press spokesman goes further labeling the critics as anti --
the peace process. the interviews held in the secret archives and the words of brendan hughes tell a different story about adams and his actions. >> reporter: he shared a jail cell with hughes remembers how close hughes and adams were. >> reporter: by the late 1970s, hughes, anthony mcintyre and hunts of their friends were in prison. hughes and several other prisoners upped the ante and went on hunger strike.
>> reporter: after 66 days, hunger strikers began to die of starvation. meanwhile, there's a roar about the propaganda. he says adams negotiated with the government on the outside. >> reporter: he with held the strike causing the death of his own i.r.a. fighters. >> reporter: at boston, where the interviews and explosive allegations threaten to redefine
one of ireland's most important figures. a role was aus sized and cut off from the community he loved. when british records were released detailing the offer made to prisoners, he says he was vindicated. >> reporter: he is not alone in his perception. adams denial of i.r.a. membership has driven some of adams most faithful away from him.
>> reporter: if, even part of the boston college archives end up in police hands, adams denials could face more challenges than they have in the past, a major problem for a major politician and perhaps a major problem for northern ireland. adams and the allies who support him are a critical half of maintaining the status quo, the revelations of the archives could endanger his support as they provide closure to others. in question, the very balance between peace and justice.
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♪ >> reporter: much of northern ireland has returned to the calm for which this is romantically renowned. in these green fields, it is easy to imagine tranquility has come to stay. but close in on belfast, always the crucible of the conflict and the long fingers of snaking, concrete and brick walls that weave mile after mile through the city, tell a different story. known as the peace walls, they keep the peace by dividing, not uniting the communities. this country is still so divided that many people are just too afraid to cross the sectarian divide, come through the gates and the peace walls just to walk
through their neighbor's communities. william plum smith, the former loyalist prisoner lives close to the peace wall is at the forefront of building cross relations and his former enemies of the i.r.a. >> reporter: this experience taught him trouble increases as the pace of peace slows. right now, the controversy over opening up the boston college archives is an impedestrianment they don't need. >> reporter: smith and others whose interviews are in the archives worry that releasing
the tapes could threaten both the peace and their personal safety. but, advocates for victims believe just the opposite. that the tapes are the peace. >> we need to be seen to be looking at each of the incidents of the past with diligence and with care and with as much skill as we can bring to the peace. >> reporter: mcburney represents many families trying to get the truth about how their loved ones died and wants all the tapes in the archive given to the police. >> there are details within the archives which would be much more mundane and routine pieces of information which feed into other murders, other balmings in a much more low key but very significant way.
>> reporter: close to 4,000 people were killed during the troubles but mcburney fears the police are using the wrong case to try to force open the secret archive. jean mcconville's death is one of the most notorious killings in ireland, allegedly under the command of one of the most important politicians. that could mean access to the archives and the answers they contain could be blocked. >> a lot of that information will be lost, if because of the sensational nature of the particular case being opened up, if you like, through the archives because it involved gerry adams and because it has implications politically and so forth. >> reporter: british officials say neither the nature of the crime or the perpetrator, adams,
will silence the i.r.a. guns are an issue. >> we have been clear there's no concept or amnesty so we have to support the police to have complete operational independence in pursuing every line of inquiry to bring those who admitted crimes to justice. no one person is above the process, no one person is above the law. >> reporter: researcher and former i.r.a. member, anthony mcintyre is determined to protect their confidentiality as others are to expose its secrets. >> reporter: for helen mckendry, it's not about politics, not
about legal battles, it's simply about closure for the death of the mother she loved. >> reporter: what do you think might be in those tapes? >> reporter: when you say they, who do you mean? >> reporter: they know what they may hear may be painful. they have already had a taste of it from brendan hughes explaining why at the time he believed helen's mother, a waiter with ten children needed to be silenced.
>> reporter: the i.r.a. said your mother was an informer, informing on their activities to the brith troops. >> yeah. >> reporter: they can be little solace knowing that hughes came to regret his role. it changes nothing. >> what the boston college subpoena story is about, really, fundamentally, deep down is the failure of those involved in the conflict in northern ireland to
afraid of prosecution and that would mean the archives reach for truth is lost before it could grow to include police, soldiers, even british government officials who, like the i.r.a. men, may have their bloody truths to share. all eyes now are on the u.s. courts waiting for a ruling on whether the subpoenas will be upheld and the archives opened. what see cretes do they hold? what impact will it have? no one can know. but whatever happens, the four stories of jean mcconville's death and so many others may still never be known. some secrets have already gone to the grave.